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Knox County Association for Retarded Citizens, Inc. v. Davis

Court of Appeals of Indiana

April 18, 2018

Knox County Association for Retarded Citizens, Inc., Appellant-Defendant,
v.
Melissa (Cope) Davis, Appellee-Plaintiff

          Appeal from the Indiana Civil Rights Commission Docket No. EMHA12091467 Alpha Blackburn, Commissioner Sheryl Edwards, Commissioner Steven Ramos, Commissioner Ahmed Young, Commissioner

          Attorneys for Appellant Daniel Siewers Katie Kotter Hart Bell, LLC Vincennes, Indiana

          Attorney for Appellee Michael C. Healy Indiana Civil Rights Commission Indianapolis, Indiana

          May, Judge.

         [¶1] Knox County Association for Retarded Citizens, Inc. ("KCARC") appeals the Indiana Civil Rights Commission's ("ICRC") conclusion that KCARC engaged in an unlawful discriminatory practice when it terminated Mellissa Davis' employment with KCARC. KCARC presents two issues for our review, which we restate, generally:

1. Whether the ICRC's conclusion that KCARC engaged in discriminatory practices when it terminated Davis' employment was supported by substantial evidence and applicable law; and
2. Whether the amount of the ICRC's monetary reward to Davis was supported by substantial evidence and applicable law.

         [¶2] We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

         Facts and Procedural History[1]

         [¶3] KCARC provides services to individuals with disabilities including residential care, group home care, educational assistance, and occupational assistance. Davis began working for KCARC as a Direct Support Professional ("DSP") on March 12, 2012. Davis worked to KCARC's satisfaction until August 26, 2012, when Davis left work for an unknown medical issue. The ICRC found, regarding this incident:

[8.] . . . On this day, Davis arrived to work at Group Home 11 confused and incoherent. She was unsure on how she arrived to work that day, Davis' heart raced, and she could not walk. Davis went to the emergency room that day to receive a diagnosis on her health conditions. When Davis arrived to work the next day, Supervisor Shonk informed Davis she could not return to work without a written note from the doctor releasing her back to work.

(App. Vol. II at 5.) Davis then sought follow-up medical treatment:

9. Davis made an appointment to see Dr. Nibel. Dr. Nibel saw Davis on August 30, 2012. Dr. Nibel diagnosed Davis as having a loss of consciousness or a "syncopal episode" but was unable to determine what caused this to occur. Dr. Nibel sent Davis back to work on August 31, 2012 to light duty. There were no details as to what "light duty" entailed. [Amy] O'Dell, HR Supervisor, called Davis to get further clarification.
10. On September 7, 2012, Davis proposed [sic] O'Dell with an additional letter from Dr. Nibel clarifying her "light duty" restrictions. Dr. Nibel explained that Ms. Davis was suffering from a medical condition that was causing some dizziness and headaches. The dizziness could be caused by bending, stooping, rapid or repetitive rotational movements. Dr. Nibel also restricted Ms. Davis from lifting anything heavier than ten (10) pounds. Dr. Nibel recommended that Ms. Davis had [sic] a job that consisted of mostly sitting but did not require Davis to be in a sitting position for the entire eight (8) hour work day.

(Id. at 5-6.) On September 7, 2012, after conferring with KCARC Vice President Jeff Darling, O'Dell decided to terminate Davis because "there were no positions available to which [sic] met with [Davis'] work restrictions." (Id. at 47.) O'Dell encouraged Davis to reapply for the DSP position once Dr. Nibel lifted the restrictions on her ability to work.

         [¶4] On September 17, 2012, Davis filed a Complaint of Discrimination with the ICRC. She alleged:

I believe I was discriminated against on the basis of a perceived disability. After suffering from my disability at work, I was sent home. When I returned to work the next day, I was told I needed a doctor's note. I got a doctor's note that put me on light duty until further notice, so the doctor could do more tests to figure out what was going on with me. I was told that since I couldn't perform all the duties of my job while on light duty I "voluntarily terminating" [sic] my employment.

(Id. at 17.) As part of a second pre-hearing order, the ICRC identified the issues before it, as defined by the parties in a conference call on April 15, 2014, as

whether (1) [Davis] had a disability or was regarded as having a disability; (2) KCARC discriminated against [Davis] because of the disability or perceived disability by denying a reasonable accommodation when KCARC terminated [Davis'] employment; and (3) what remedies [Davis] may be entitled to.

(Id. at 18-19.) On September 15-16, 2015, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Noell F. Allen held hearings in Vincennes. The parties and the ALJ also convened telephonically on September 30, 2015.

         [¶5] On April 13, 2016, the ALJ issued a Proposed Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order ("Proposed Order") that awarded Davis back pay damages of $25, 837.37. On April 28, 2016, KCARC filed its objections to the proposed order. On August 26, 2016, the ICRC heard oral argument on KCARC's objections. On December 19, 2016, the ICRC adopted the ALJ's Proposed Order, but changed the amount of damages to include pre-judgment interest for a total damage award of $35, 131.46.

         Discussion and Decision[2]

         I. Standard of Review

         [¶6] The standard by which we review decisions from administrative agencies is well-settled:

In reviewing an administrative decision, we must determine "whether substantial evidence, together with any reasonable inferences that flow from such evidence, support the [agency's] findings and conclusions." Walker v. Muscatatuck State Dev. Ctr., 694 N.E.2d 258, 266 (Ind. 1998). In doing so, we do not reweigh the evidence or judge the credibility of witnesses, and we consider only the evidence most favorable to the ICRC's findings. McClain v. Review Bd. of Ind. Dep't of Workforce Dev., 693 N.E.2d 1314, 1317 (Ind. 1998), reh'g denied. However, if the question before us is primarily a legal question, "we do not grant the same degree of deference to the [agency's] decision, for law is the province of the judiciary and our constitutional system empowers the courts to draw legal conclusions." Walker, 694 N.E.2d at 266. Thus, we review conclusions of law to determine whether the ICRC correctly interpreted and applied the law. M & J Mgmt., Inc. v. Review Bd. of Dep't of Workforce Dev., 711 N.E.2d 58, 61 (Ind.Ct.App. 1999).

Zeller Elevator Co. v. Slygh, 796 N.E.2d 1198, 1206 (Ind.Ct.App. 2003), trans. denied. In McClain v. Review Bd. of Ind. Dep't of Workforce Dev., 693 N.E.2d 1314, 1317 (Ind. 1998), reh'g denied, our Indiana Supreme Court explained:

[An agency's] conclusions as to ultimate facts involve an inference or deduction based on the findings of basic fact. These questions of ultimate fact are sometimes described as "questions of law." They are, however, more appropriately characterized as mixed questions of law and fact. As such, they are typically reviewed to ensure that the Board's inference is "reasonable" or "reasonable in light of [the Board's] findings." The term "reasonableness" is conveniently imprecise. Some questions of ultimate fact are within the special competence of the Board. If so, it is appropriate for a court to exercise greater deference to the "reasonableness" of the Board's conclusion. . . . In evaluating this conclusion, if no proposition of law is contravened or ignored by the agency conclusions, the "reasonable" inference standard gives deference to the agency determination. However, not all ultimate facts are within the Board's area of expertise. As to these, the reviewing court is more likely to exercise its own judgment. In either case the court examines the logic of the inference drawn and imposes any rules of law that may drive the result. That inference still requires reversal if the underlying facts are not supported by substantial evidence or the logic of the inference is faulty, even where the agency acts within its expertise, or if the agency proceeds under an incorrect view of the law.

         II. Applicability of Indiana Administrative Code

         [¶7] As an initial matter, we address the applicability of the portion of the Indiana Administrative Code ("IAC") relevant to disability discrimination in employment, which is dedicated to "implement[ing] IC 22-9-5 that requires equal employment opportunities for qualified individuals with disabilities." 910 IAC 3-1-1 (2013). Indiana Code section 22-9-5-27, which grants the ICRC the authority to adopt rules regarding employment discrimination against disabled people, states: "These rules must not be in conflict with the provisions of the federal rules adopted under the employment discrimination provisions of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq)." Ind. Code § 22-9-5-27.

         [¶8] In their briefs, both parties cite to the IAC and the Code of Federal Regulations ("CFR"), [3] the corresponding federal administrative rules, interchangeably. However, the most recent CFR sections conflict with their IAC counterparts to an extent that renders the provisions of the IAC invalid. [4]

         A. Federal Regulations

         [¶9] Since its codification in 1990, the ADA has undergone several revisions, the most extensive being the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 ("ADAAA"). When Congress passed the ADAAA, it explicitly indicated it wished to abrogate two United States Supreme Court cases: Sutton v. United Air Lines, Inc., 527 U.S. 471 (1999), and Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184 (2002).[5] Pub. L. No. 110-325(2) (2008). Congress acted because the Court had too narrowly interpreted the ADA, specifically regarding whether a condition substantially limits one or more of a person's major life activities. Id. Thus, the ADAAA was intended to broaden the definitions used to determine whether a person is disabled. Id.

         [¶10] First, the ADAAA changed the list of "major life activities" that could be affected by a person's condition. Id. In 2001, "major life activities" were "functions such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working." 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(i) (2001). In 2012, the definition of "major life activities" was amended to include, but not limit the applicable activities to: "[c]aring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, sitting, reaching, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, interacting with others, and working." 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(i)(1)(i) (2012).

         [¶11] Second, the ADAAA amended the requirements for determining if a condition "substantially limits" a person's performance of a major life activity. Pub. L. No. 110-325(2) (2008). In 2001, the CFR provided:

The following factors should be considered in determining whether an individual is substantially limited in a major life activity:
(i) The nature and severity of the impairment;
(ii) The duration or expected duration of the impairment; and
(iii) The permanent or long term impact, or the expected permanent or long term impact of or resulting from the impairment.

29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(2)(i)-(iii) (2001). But in 2012, that same section of the C.F.R. stated, in response to the ADAAA:

(j) Substantially limits -
(1) Rules of construction. The following rules of construction apply when determining whether an impairment substantially limits an individual in a major life activity:
(i) The term "substantially limits" shall be construed broadly in favor of expansive coverage, to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA. "Substantially limits" is not meant to be a demanding standard.
(ii) An impairment is a disability within the meaning of this section if it substantially limits the ability of an individual to perform a major life activity as compared to most people in the general population. An impairment need not prevent, or significantly or severely restrict, the individual from performing a major life activity in order to be considered substantially limiting. Nonetheless, not every impairment will constitute a disability within the meaning of this section.
(iii) The primary object of attention in cases brought under the ADA should be whether covered entities have complied with their obligations and whether discrimination has occurred, not whether an individual's impairment substantially limits a major life activity. Accordingly, the threshold issue of whether an impairment "substantially limits" a major life activity should not demand extensive analysis.
(iv) The determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity requires an individualized assessment. However, in making this assessment, the term "substantially limits" shall be interpreted and applied to require a degree of functional limitation that is lower than the standard for "substantially limits" applied prior to the ADAAA.
(v) The comparison of an individual's performance of a major life activity to the performance of the same major life activity by most people in the general population usually will not require scientific, medical, or statistical analysis. Nothing in this paragraph is intended, however, to prohibit the presentation of scientific, medical, or statistical evidence to make such a comparison where appropriate.
(vi) The determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity shall be made without regard to the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures. However, the ameliorative effects of ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses shall be considered in determining whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity.
(vii) An impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active.
(viii) An impairment that substantially limits one major life activity need not substantially limit other major life activities in order to be considered a substantially limiting impairment.
(ix) The six-month "transitory" part of the "transitory and minor" exception to "regarded as" coverage in § 1630.15(f) does not apply to the definition of "disability" under paragraphs (g)(1)(i) (the "actual disability" prong) or (g)(1)(ii) (the "record of" prong) of this section. The effects of an impairment lasting or expected to last fewer than six months can be substantially limiting within the meaning of this section.

29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(1)(i)-(ix) (2012).

         B. State Regulations

         [¶12] Two years after the ADA was enacted, Indiana enacted statutes addressing employment discrimination against disabled people. P.L. 111-1992, Sec. 4 (1992). The legislature granted authority to the ICRC to adopt rules regarding employment discrimination against disabled people but required: "These rules must not be in conflict with the provisions of the federal rules adopted under the employment discrimination provisions of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq)." Ind. Code § 22-9-5-27. The ICRC enacted the relevant portions of the IAC in 1998. Since 1998, the ICRC has "readopted" these provisions in 2005, 2007, and 2013.

         [¶13] The latest version of the IAC defines a 'major life activity' as "a function, such as the following: (1) Caring for oneself. (2) Performing a manual task. (3) Walking. (4) Seeing. (5) Hearing. (6) Speaking. (7) Breathing. (8) Learning. (9) Working." 910 IAC § 3-2-9 (2013). This language tracks the 2001 version of 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(i). See supra ¶ 9. The latest IAC provision regarding 'substantial limitation' provides:

The following factors should be considered in determining whether an individual is substantially limited in a major life activity:
(1) The nature and severity of the impairment.
(2) The duration or expected duration of the impairment.
(3) The permanent or long term impact, or the expected permanent or long term impact, of or resulting ...

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